To hell with governing

April 30th, 2010

The 2012 presidential election is still 30 months away. But Republican challengers to the President already think that holding public office may be a liability. Are we heading into a campaign that's not at all about policy, or ideas or governing, but about anger at a changing society, played out in a multilayered media landscape. Matt Bai, contributing editor to the The New York Times Magazine, and one of our most astute political observers, thinks this might be happening.  My conversation with Matt Bai about his article in The Magazine this Sunday:

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Does Reality Matter

April 29th, 2010

Some argue that reality television represents the perigee of western civilization. Yet for many, it's a harmless guilty pleasure that also defines, for better or worse, the celebrity drenched, voyeuristic culture we are immersed in. Anna David, in a new book Reality Matters: 19 Writers Come Clean About the Shows We Can't Stop Watching, has assembled 19 serious writers, including L'enfant terrible James Frey, to give their views on this genre that seems to have such a hold on so many. My conversation with Anna David:

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Mornings in Jenin

April 26th, 2010

Sometimes it is through art and literature that we are better able to understand the complex issues of our time. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the Middle East, where reality, truth and history are often blurred beyond distinction. A place where over sixty years of conflict have brutalized the human condition. Susan Abulhawa, the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, and herself the daughter of Palestinian refugees, tells us, in her new novel Mornings in Jenin, the story of one Palestinian family's struggle for survival. It's a story shaped by loss, by fear and ultimately forgiveness.  My conversation with Susan Abulhawa

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The Bridge

April 23rd, 2010

Perhaps only now are we coming to realize that the election of Barack Obama was, to quote Joe Biden "a big F...ing deal." Not only did we elect an African-American President, but for only the second time in the nations history we elected a non Protestant to occupy the office. How did this happen? What nerve did Obama touch in the American psyche. Today, although it might not have been the intent of the Founders, Presidents represent a kind of national Rorschach test, on whom we project our dreams, our fears and our hopes. In our media driven culture, the individual narrative of the candidate becomes the central arc of our politics.

David Remnick, the Pulitzer Prize winning editor of The New Yorker, in his new book The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, has deconstructed the Obama narrative and given us a new narrative of the man and the President. My conversation with David Remnick:

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The Match

April 22nd, 2010

It was probably best that the still ongoing debate about healthcare does not focus on the great advances in science and genetics that really are at the cutting edge of medicine. If we really look for where the future of medicine is, it's in understanding the way in which genes will be manipulated and even created in order to create life saving cures. Even today, the promise of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and in vitro fertilization are being used to created perfect genetic matches, so called "savior siblings." Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Beth Whitehouse in her new book The Match: "Savior Siblings" and One Family's Battle to Heal their Daughter tells the story of one Long Island couple thrust into this uncharted biomedical territory. It's riveting story, with a happy, but cautionary ending.  My converation with Beth Whitehouse:

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American Taliban

April 22nd, 2010

Are we so walled off that we look at personal exploration and the search for self as an act to be suspicious of? There was a time when students traveled to exotic parts of the world as a way to do what young people do, that is to explore and find themselves. Today, imagine a middle class kid who travels to the Middle East on a spiritual quest and winds up there on the eve of 9/11. This is the backdrop of Pearl Abraham's new novel American Taliban: A Novel. My conversation with Pearl Abraham:

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A really amazing mom

April 21st, 2010

Former Gourmet Magazine editor and LA and NY Times Restaurant critic Ruth Reichl has spent time, in many of her memoirs, telling amusing anecdotes about her mother. In her newest memoir For You Mom, Finally, she comes to realize that her mother was part of a generation of post-war woman whose frustration and unhappiness provided the predicate for the woman's movement and whose contribution still shapes us today. Like Betty Draper in "Mad Men" and April Wheeler in "Revolutionary Road," Reichl's mother came of age at the worst possible time for woman: They were educated, they had time on their hands, but no place to direct their talents. Reichl's mother wanted to make sure that her daughter had a very different life.  Ruth Reichl tells me more about her mother's story:

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Roots of Steel

April 20th, 2010

It's hard to imagine today that there was a time when the steel industry was booming. When steel workers could comfortably support a family, buy a boat and embrace the American Dream. A time when American icons like the Golden Gate Bridge and Madison Square Garden were proudly built with American steel. Those days are long gone. But what's left is a legacy of stories, of hard work, broken promises and anger, which still impacts our culture and our politics today. Science writer Deborah Rudacille, who grew up in a steel town outside Baltimore, gives us a powerful look inside this boom and bust world, in her new book Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town. My conversation with Deborah Rudacille:

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The Great American University

April 19th, 2010

Of all of the traditional institutions of America that have come under siege of late, perhaps none has held up better than the our great American research universities. However, even they have suffered. The economic crisis, a political culture that often embraces ignorance, international competition and a lack of understanding of their role in our society are all taking aim at The Great American University. Perhaps because of all of this, because we need to nurture this unappreciated national resource, it's more important than ever to embrace and examine these issues. This is what Jonathan R. Cole, the former provost of Columbia University does in his book The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected.  My conversation with Jonathan R. Cole:

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Getting organized in a digital era

April 15th, 2010

How much time do we all spend trying be organized? The onslaught of information, the avalanche of apps, all making us both smarter and more stressed. Years ago Google set out, as it mission, to organize all of the information in the world. The man who helped lead that process for Google, as the Chief Information Officer, now turns his attention to personal organization. Douglas Merrill is a leading computer scientists, with a Ph.D in Cognitive Science from Princeton. He now gives us all some help in his book Getting Organized in the Google Era: How to Get Stuff out of Your Head, Find It When You Need It, and Get It Done Right.  My conversation with Douglas Merrill:

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Tell Me A Story

April 14th, 2010

Few journalists have been as good at capturing the personalities and zeitgeist of their time as David Maraniss. A multiple Pulitzer Prize winner and award winning biographer of Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi, and Roberto Clemente, he has also taken us to modern day Vietnam and to the 1960 Rome Olympics. His work focuses on those important moments in the human condition, when we reveal who we really are. His new book Into the Story: A Writer's Journey through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, is a kind of sampler of his work that, taken together, accentuates his love of politics, sports and the importance of timeless narrative non-fiction.  My conversation with David Maraniss: Site Meter

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The Pulitzer acknowledges

April 12th, 2010

As we enter into the first arms reduction treaty in almost twenty years, it's worth remembering the doomsday scenario that was the Cold War arms race. This years Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction has been awarded to David Hoffman for his book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy.  In it, he documents not only the Cold War arms race, but the residual impact and the weapons of mass destruction that still imperil the planet. My conversation with David Hoffman:

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Is that all there is?

April 9th, 2010

Through science, religion and art we have, for centuries, tried to make sense of the universe. In modern times, we've believed that science would answer the great cosmic questions. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics certainly seemed to lead us in that direction. But still physicists have been stymied in trying to find that elusive theory of everything. What if there is no such theory? What if the universe really is random and asymmetric? How does that alter our view of our place in that universe? These are the issues explored by physicist and Dartmouth professor Marcelo Gleiser in his book A Tear at the Edge of Creation: A Radical New Vision for Life in an Imperfect Universe.  My conversation with Marcelo Gleiser:

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A kid with a dream

April 8th, 2010

Jerry Weintraub has spent more than five decades in show business. As a promoter, manager, movie and Broadway producer, his success has been unparalleled and his judgement uncanny. With great success, show business autobiographies often come with their need to tell others how to succeed. Jerry Weintraub, in his new autobiography, When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man, tells us of the people that have taught him. If ever there were a primer on networking, the power of mentors and chutzpa, this is it.  My conversation with Jerry Weintraub:

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The End of Wall Street

April 7th, 2010
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The Sabbath World

April 6th, 2010

Pressures to be productive, sixty to eighty hour work weeks as the norm, technology that tethers us to work 24/7; all of these things might make us long for a day of rest. Historically, the Sabbath provided that fulfillment. Often as a religious observance, but sometimes it was just simply a day of getting outside of ourselves and coming together as part of a community.

This is the backdrop of a new memoir by Judith Shulevitz, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. Judith is a literary critic, a former New York Times and Slate columnist and her new book allows a different view of how we spend of leisure time.

My conversation with Judith Shulevitz:

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The Tiger bubble

April 5th, 2010
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